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GA/11838
13 October 2016
Seventy-first Session, 27th Meeting (AM)

General Assembly Appoints António Guterres of Portugal, Former High Commissioner for Refugees, as Ninth United Nations Secretary-General

Speakers Hail Selection Process as Historically Transparent, Inclusive

On the heels of what had been hailed as a historically transparent and inclusive selection process, the General Assembly this morning, for the ninth time since 1946, chose its next Secretary-General, appointing by acclamation António Guterres of Portugal for a five-year term starting 1 January 2017.

“The true winner today is the credibility of the United Nations,” Mr. Guterres said, as he addressed the 193-member Assembly after being chosen to serve as the Organization’s chief executive in the first-ever process that had been open to the voices of all Member States.

Mr. Guterres, who the Security Council formally recommended for the post on 6 October, pledged to work at the service of all countries in many roles: a convener, a mediator, a bridge-builder and an honest broker to help find solutions that benefited all people.  Recalling his visits to war zones and refugee camps during his tenure as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Guterres shared how he had witnessed first-hand the suffering of the most vulnerable people on earth.  “What has made us immune to the plight of those most socially and economically underprivileged?” he asked.

There were only losers in today’s conflicts, Mr. Guterres said, stressing that security everywhere was under threat and that life without peace was devoid of all meaning.  Peace remained elusive in today’s world.  While there were diverging visions and interests among Member States, those threats required common interests to prevail over all divisions.

“I have faith in a reform-minded United Nations because I believe in the universal values it stands for: peace, justice, human dignity, tolerance and solidarity,” he said.  The United Nations had the moral duty and the universal right to ensure its overarching priority of diplomacy for peace.

Hailing the selection process as transparent and inclusive, Ban Ki-moon, the current Secretary-General, praised Mr. Guterres for his leadership and experience in diplomacy as High Commissioner for Refugees and as a two-term Prime Minister of Portugal.  But perhaps Mr. Guterres was best known where it counted most: on the frontlines of armed conflict and humanitarian suffering and for the compassion and solidarity which remained at the heart of his effective advocacy around the globe.

Mr. Guterres’ political instincts were those of the United Nations — cooperation for the common good and shared responsibility for people and the planet, Mr. Ban said.  The incoming Secretary-General also recognized the crucial importance of women’s empowerment, from the tables of peace to the halls of the United Nations.  Having already been one of the senior managers of the United Nations, he understood the inner workings of the Organization.

“I have long valued his advice and long admired his spirit of service,” Mr. Ban said, emphasizing that the Secretary-General-designate was a “wonderful choice” to steer the United Nations as it addressed the insecurity and uncertainties of today’s world.

Peter Thomson, General Assembly President, said today’s decision was of “deep consequence”, shaped from the outset through committed engagement by the Assembly.  The process had begun with the first-ever joint call from the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council formally soliciting candidates for the job.  “Throughout it all, the process emphasized the need to secure the best possible candidate for the role,” he said, adding that 13 candidates had been presented for consideration, seven of them being women.

From the moment of presentation of their nominations, their candidatures had been subject to full public view — from the joint circulation of letters, the establishment of a website and the presentation of each candidate’s vision for the Organization, he said.  All contenders for the job had been given the opportunity in informal dialogues with the United Nations membership.  Mr. Guterres had emerged as the best candidate, embodying the highest standards of integrity and dedication to the high ideals and common values of the United Nations.

“I am confident that Mr. Guterres will service the global community with dedication, as a moral authority, and be the voice to humanity of our collective conscience,” Mr. Thomson said.

Member States also offered congratulations to Mr. Guterres and praised the speedy selection of a strong Secretary-General to lead the United Nations.  The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking on behalf of Western European and other States, said the General Assembly had played an important role in improving the selection process, with “unprecedented” transparency, effectiveness and inclusivity.  A strong United Nations was now needed more than ever, and today, “we have chosen a strong Secretary-General to lead it”, he said.

The representative of the United States, speaking for the host country, said that, given the polarization of the Security Council, many feared the process would drag on while others had thought that they would have to settle for the “lowest common denominator candidate”; instead “we have the privilege to appoint a supremely qualified candidate”.  Hopes had been high that the process would deliver the first-ever woman Secretary-General.  The Security Council had only voted on three women for the post over the course of 70 years.  In 2016 alone, however, seven women had been voted upon.

As other delegates weighed in, Niger’s representative, speaking on behalf of African States, praised the achievements of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who would step down 31 December, saying that he had spearheaded progress on sustainable development, human rights and climate change.

Georgia’s representative, speaking for Eastern European States, said he looked forward to building upon the revitalization of the Assembly.  The role of the incoming Secretary-General would be critical in tackling looming humanitarian crises, negotiating solutions to the world’s emerging and protracted conflicts, and sustaining peace.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Assembly observed a moment of silence to pay tribute to Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, who died earlier in the day.  A formal tribute in the General Assembly would be convened at a date to be announced.

Also speaking today were representatives of the Russian Federation (as President of the Security Council for October), Kuwait (on behalf of Asia-Pacific States) and Chile (on behalf of Latin American and Caribbean States).

The General Assembly will reconvene on Friday, 14 October, at 10 a.m. to discuss the New Partnership for Africa's Development.

Action on Recommendation of the Security Council

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation), addressing the General Assembly in his capacity as President of the Security Council for October, recalled that the Council had adopted resolution 2311 (2016) on 6 October by acclamation.  Reading out the text, which was contained in a letter sent the same day from the Council President to the Assembly President (document A/71/531), he said the Council had recommended to the General Assembly the appointment of António Guterres as Secretary-General of the United Nations for a term of office from 1 January 2017 to 31 December 2021.  The Assembly’s early action on the appointment would provide the new Secretary-General with enough time to prepare for performing his duties, he said.

The Assembly then adopted draft resolution A/71/L.4 by acclamation, appointing Mr. Guterres Secretary-General of the United Nations for that term.

Statements

PETER THOMSON, President of the General Assembly, called today a “momentous” day, saying it was a decision of “deep consequence”, shaped from the outset through committed engagement by the General Assembly.  For the first time in the history of the United Nations, the selection and appointment had been guided by principles of transparency and inclusivity.  The process had begun with the first-ever joint call from the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council formally soliciting candidates for the job.

From the outset, the process had acknowledged the importance of geographic and gender balance, and had explicitly invited the candidacies of women, he said.  It had sought out candidates who embodied a firm commitment to the purpose and principles of the United Nations Charter and who had proven leadership abilities, extensive experience in international relations and strong diplomatic skills.  “Throughout it all, the process emphasized the need to secure the best possible candidate for the role,” he said, adding that 13 candidates had been presented for consideration, seven of them being women.

From the moment of presentation of their nominations, their candidatures had been subject to full public view — from the joint circulation of letters, the establishment of a website and the presentation of each candidate’s vision for the Organization, he said.  All candidates had been given the opportunity in informal dialogues with the United Nations membership and throughout the process an important message had begun to resonate: electing an independent and courageous Secretary-General, who was committed to ensuring gender equality and innovating the Organization’s structures.

Mr. Thomson congratulated Mr. Guterres on emerging as the best candidate, saying he embodied the highest standards of integrity and leadership and brought with him vast experience from his time as Prime Minister of Portugal and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  His dedication to the high ideals and common values of the United Nations was beyond doubt.

“I am confident that Mr. Guterres will service the global community with dedication, as a moral authority, and be the voice to humanity of our collective conscience,” Mr. Thomson said.

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, commended Member States, not only for their choice, but also for the way in which they had gone about it.  “The first-ever public hearings on the selection of a Secretary-General opened the process to the world,” Mr. Ban added, emphasizing that several highly qualified women and men had been given a unique platform from which to share their vision and answer questions from the diplomatic community and civil society.  Those new steps had established a new benchmark of openness and engagement.

Mr. Guterres was well known to all in the General Assembly Hall, but was perhaps best known where it counted most: on the frontlines of armed conflict and humanitarian suffering, the Secretary-General said.  For the past decade, the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had been a lifeline for millions of people forced from their homes.  Compassion and solidarity had been at the heart of the High Commissioner’s effective advocacy around the globe.

Mr. Guterres was bringing deep and solid political experience, including his two terms of service as Prime Minister of Portugal, the Secretary-General said. His political instincts were those of the United Nations — cooperation for the common good and shared responsibility for people and the planet.  He also recognized the crucial importance of women’s empowerment, from the tables of peace to the halls of United Nations.  As an active participant in the Senior Management Group and Chief Executives Board, Mr. Guterres understood the inner workings of the Organization.

“I have long valued his advice and long admired his spirit of service,” Mr. Ban said, emphasizing that the Secretary-General-designate was a “wonderful choice” to steer the United Nations as it addressed the insecurity and uncertainties of today’s world.

ABDALLAH WAFY (Niger), speaking on behalf of African States, congratulated Mr. Guterres on his appointment as Secretary-General, saying he was the right candidate with a wealth of experience “to take the baton”.  The African States was encouraged by the transparency and inclusivity that had guided the selection process and reinforced the legitimacy of the General Assembly.  He thanked former Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft and current Assembly President Peter Thomson for steering the process towards transparency.  He commended Mr. Ban for his terms as Secretary-General at such a challenging time in history and for his work in pushing forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The African States looked forward to engaging with Mr. Guterres very soon.

MANSOUR ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), speaking on behalf of Asia-Pacific States, said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had served the United Nations over the past decade with dignity and humility.  Among other things, he had inspired global development for the future through advancements in the areas of women’s empowerment, gender equality, human rights and climate change.  His tireless efforts on the latter had resulted in the Paris Agreement on climate change, and he had pushed forward both the Millennium Development Goals and the new sustainable development agenda.  Thanking Mr. Ban for his service, the representative also expressed gratitude to Ban Soon-taek, who had stood steadfastly by her husband during his terms.  Congratulating António Guterres on his appointment, the representative said his selection signalled an era of change at the United Nations.  This year’s momentous selection procedure, which had involved public hearings and informal dialogues, as well as a global town hall meeting with all the regional groups, showed that “never has the election process been more open and inclusive”.

Mr. Guterres brought to the position of Secretary-General a wealth of knowledge, professional skills, vision, experience and wisdom as a veteran political leader, he continued.  Wishing the Secretary-General-designate success in fulfilling his central role at an exceedingly critical time in United Nations history, he pledged the Asia-Pacific States’ support to help Mr. Guterres encounter the new and emerging challenges that lay ahead.  Among other things, he expressed confidence that Mr. Guterres would work to continue the Organization’s ongoing reform, as revitalization would ensure its resilience to the various global challenges.  The new Secretary-General would also need to raise awareness in countering the threats posed by extremism, xenophobia, racism and religious intolerance.

KAHA IMNADZE (Georgia), speaking on behalf of Eastern European States, said António Guterres’ outstanding experience in the highest positions at both the national and international levels and his vision of effective multilateralism were reassurances of his masterly stewardship in the years to come.  His selection was even more important due to the transparent and inclusive process in which he and other candidates had taken part.  The Eastern European States looked forward to building upon the revitalization of the Assembly and remained committed to exploring ways of further improving the process, including by promoting the gender and regional balance while selecting the candidates for the high-ranking officials at the United Nations.  The leadership of the new Secretary-General would be pivotal as the world worked to implement the 2030 Agenda and addressed the questions of climate change.  His role as the United Nations top diplomat would be critical in tackling the looming humanitarian crises and negotiating solutions to the world’s emerging and protracted conflicts and sustaining peace.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile), speaking on behalf of Latin American and Caribbean States, said Mr. Guterres’ stature and diplomatic competence, together with his broad experience in a range of areas, made him an eminently suitable candidate for the demanding position of Secretary-General at a time when the world had made the historic commitment to free the human race of poverty.  In particular, his 10 years of experience as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees were more relevant than ever, as the world faced large movements of refugees and migrants.  Expressing confidence that Mr. Guterres would undertake his role with committed leadership and independence, the Latin American and Caribbean States looked forward to working closely with the United Nations in the fields of sustainable development, climate change, peace and security, decolonization, human rights and democracy.

MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom), speaking on behalf of Western European and other States, pledged full support to Mr. Guterres in his position of Secretary-General to defend the principles of the Charter.  He looked forward to Mr. Guterres efficiently managing the Secretariat and enhancing the Organization’s ability to face challenges of the twenty-first century.  He expressed deep gratitude to Mr. Ban, applauding his leadership on sustainable development, human rights and climate change.  The General Assembly had played an important role in improving the selection process of electing a Secretary-General, with “unprecedented” transparency, effectiveness and inclusivity.  The process had been concluded smoothly, with the Security Council providing Mr. Guterres sufficient time to prepare for his role.  That should serve as an example for future elections.  Mr. Guterres’ tenure was to begin at a time when global challenges were becoming even more complex.  A strong United Nations was now needed more than ever, and today, “we have chosen a strong Secretary-General to lead it”, he said.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States), speaking for the host country, said that, during his tenure, Ban Ki-moon had demonstrated that progress could be achieved by setting ambitious goals and meeting them.  He had led the way on the historic Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda.  “These achievements, if implemented by Member States, will improve people’s lives,” she said.  The speedy and transparent appointment of Mr. Guterres was impressive, she added, underscoring that all too often “narrow agendas keep us divided and prevent us from making constructive progress”.  The appointment process “should inspire us all going forth”.  Given the polarization of the Security Council, many feared the process would drag on while others had thought that they would have to settle for the “lowest common denominator candidate”; instead “we have the privilege to appoint a supremely qualified candidate,” she said.

Countries of the world, reflecting the urgent needs of their citizens, were calling on the United Nations to do more than it had done before, she said.  Mr. Guterres would be asked to serve as a peacemaker, a reformer responsible for streamlining a bureaucracy and an advocate rallying the world to defend the rights of all people, regardless of their sex, creed, nationality or sexual orientation.  The process of electing a new Secretary-General had evolved.  Conversations mattered and there was no question that the General Assembly had shaped them.  Hopes had been high that the process would deliver the first-ever woman Secretary‑General.  The Security Council had only voted on three women for the post over the course of 70 years.  In 2016, seven women had been voted upon.  While being a woman was not one of Mr. Guterres’ qualifications, his dedication to gender equality was proven.  He felt the challenges faced by the world’s most vulnerable people.  In Mr. Guterres, the United Nations got a candidate with “both head and heart”, she said.

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General-designate of the United Nations, saying he stood before the Assembly with both gratitude and humility, expressed appreciation for the transparency and openness of the selection process.  “The true winner today is the credibility of the United Nations,” he said in that regard, pledging to work at the service of all Member States equally with no agenda but the one enshrined in the Charter.  The dramatic problems of today’s complex world inspired a humble approach in which the Secretary-General alone neither had all the answers nor sought to impose his views.  Instead, he must work as a convener, a mediator, a bridge-builder and an honest broker to help find solutions that benefited everyone involved.

He recalled that, over the last decade, he had visited war zones and refugee camps to witness first-hand the suffering of the most vulnerable people on earth.  “What has made us immune to the plight of those most socially and economically underprivileged?” he asked, underscoring the acute responsibility to make human dignity the core of his work.  “I have faith in a reform-minded United Nations because I believe in the universal values it stands for: peace, justice, human dignity, tolerance and solidarity,” he said, adding that diversity in all its forms was a tremendous asset and not a threat.

Without peace, he said, life was devoid of all meaning; however, peace remained elusive in today’s world.  The United Nations had the moral duty and the universal right to ensure its overarching priority of diplomacy for peace.  Indeed, the Organization should be a universal public space for concerted action and for States to listen to each other.  There were only losers in today’s conflicts, he said, stressing that security everywhere was under threat.  While there were diverging visions and interests among Member States, those threats required that common interests prevail over all divisions, he said.  “Let us join together for peace,” he urged in that regard.

Saluting Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his “absolutely remarkable” achievements — most notably on the 2030 Agenda and climate change — he pledged to do his utmost to honour that legacy.  Concluding, he said the dream of the founders of the United Nations remained unfulfilled.  “Much has been achieved, but the road ahead remains long,” he said, calling on the peoples of the United Nations to embark on the journey together as the welfare of humanity was at stake.

For information media. Not an official record.